Wednesday, May 20, 2009



That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney
(Otoliths, 2008)

Writing poetry is hard. This is not news to anyone who has seriously dedicated themselves to writing it. But writing poetry with another person? Wouldn't that qualify as being one of the hardest things in the world of writing to do? Would there be stylistic clashes? Would schedules work out so such poems could be written? Would the poems be terrible?

Luckily for us, Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney have overcome all of these potential hazards and have put together a marvelous collection of collaborative poetry: That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness. This collection is not the first of collaborative poetry to be released. Indeed, Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have produced many wonderful collections of collaborative work (Exquisite Politics and Oyl to name a few). And in 2007, an anthology of collaborative poetry, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, edited by Duhamel, Seaton, and David Trinidad, was published by Soft Skull Press.

It's clear that collaborative poetry is alive and well, but how do Gabbert and Rooney accomplish creating their brand of poems? First and foremost, there's no way to tell which lines were written by Gabbert and which were written by Rooney. The poems in the collection are all nice, tight packages of verse littered with vivid imagery. Take for example the poem “Nice Vocabulary”:
I've been inappropriately molested by my imagination—
I once had the phrase "graham crackers" stuck in my head
for like a thousand days. Damn the man! Snap crackle pop.
Butcher block hydrangea. Dashboard hula dancer.
Horrible schnauzer. Lavender bulldozer. Word-a-Day calendar.
Oh, I meant to tell you. You're not my BF anymore.
Or even my AE: arch-enemy. We're not on terms.
Watch me walk away, off this long pier into infinity.

It is impossible to tell where one poet's words start and end. Even if one has read the individual works of Gabbert and Rooney, it may only offer a slight hint into where each line came from. And anyway, is it important to know? I don't think so. The speaker in “Nice Vocabulary” is a tormented soul for sure, and that fact comes through clear as day.

The third voice created by Gabbert and Rooney in these poems is neither of them, rather, it is some kind of gentle poetry Frankenstein monster–comprised of equal parts Gabbert and Rooney. Not only that, the poems are funny, which is something that unfortunately is lacking from much of the poetry being produced today. That can be seen in poems like “At the Pizzeria”:
Everything went from great, to eh, & then to crap
when you called my novel a novella. “I smell a rat,”
you said. Do rats have a smell? How do you know?
Your taste & your social graces need some revising,
so you might need to take some necessary steps:
the “Fox Trot,” the “Robot,” & the “Cotton-Eyed Joe”
for a start . . . asshole. It takes two to tango, i.e.,
haven’t you ever heard of a little thing called compromise?
I can never admit that I’ve got the hots for you,
but you’d see if you’d just look into my flaming eyes.

The poems in That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness ooze this humor and are filled with “insane” jumps from topic to topic in many of the poems. These elements make the book a treasure and a source for inspiration and fun in poetry. I, for one, hope Gabbert and Rooney's insanity doesn't end any time soon.


Nathan Logan is the editor of Spooky Boyfriend and a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He is the author of the chapbook Holly from Muncie (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2008) and a forthcoming e-book, Dick (Pangur Ban Party).

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